Researchers from the National University of Singapore (NUS) have developed a new contrast agent that can improve detection of liver cancer during medical imaging, which can inadvertently lead to better planning for treatment in patients.

Led by Assistant Professor Edward Chow, Prinicipal Investigator from the Cancer Science Institute of Singapore at NUS and Department of Pharmacology at NUS Yong Loo Lin of Medicine, the team developed a nanodiamond-based contrast agent, which can enhance the visibility of internal anatomical structures during magnetic resonance imaging (MRI), the imaging technique commonly used in the diagnosis of cancer.

Researchers developed new nanodiamond-based contrast agent

The two modes of MRI imaging that are currently available, namely T1-weighted and T2-weighted imaging, often require patients to be administered with contrast agents in order to attain a better imaging quality. These contrast agents help enhance quality of MR images by altering the magnetic properties of water molecules. However, each technique requires a specific class of contrast agent, which are not compatible for use together.

The detection of liver tumours rely on both T1- and T2- weighted images, however, the need for different contrast agents poses a hurdle in the diagnosis of the disease, firstly because T2-weighted imaging is not deemed reliable, and secondly, because both T1- and T2- weighted imaging can be confounded by tumour vascularity.

To overcome these challenges, the team of scientists researched and developed a novel dual mode contrast agent – made using nanodiamonds in combination with a manganese base – which can enhance the quality of images of tumours in both T1- and T2-weighted MRI scans.

Dual-mode contrast improves imaging for liver cancer

Nanodiamonds – carbon-based particles that are two to eight nanometres in diameter – have unique chemical properties that enable them to attract water molecules, which in turn allows them to promote exchange of protons between water molecules and the contrast agents that accumulate in tissues, resulting in better quality images in both T1- and T2- weighted scans.

Researchers also found that liver tumours that were previously unable to be visualised through imaging without contrast agents become easily visible with the nanodiamond-based contrast, even at low dosages.

“Our experiments suggest that our dual-mode contrast agent holds great promise in improving imaging for liver cancer,” said Chow.

“We are hopeful that this advancement in nanomedicine will lead to safer and more accurate diagnosis of liver cancer. Moving forward, we plan to conduct further pre-clinical safety studies for our contrast agents, with the end goal being clinical implementation”

“We are also looking into using our contrast agents to improve imaging for glioma and ovarian cancer,” he also said. MIMS

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